Over two years after the government announced setting up of a one-stop crisis centre to provide medical and legal aid to victims of sexual assault – in the aftermath of massive protests following the gangrape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in Delhi – not much has moved on the ground.
Only one such centre has become operational so far in Raipur, Chattisgarh where services at best are patchy. Another half-a-dozen centres in states including Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are in the pipeline. In the absence of a single point redressal system for heinous crimes against women, currently such victims face a harrowing time in getting their complaints registered and do not mange to get medical and legal aid on time.
The fledgling one-stop crisis centres coming up in India can take a cue from Britain’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), which among other things provides medical aid, counselling and psychological support to such victims. The first SARC centre came up in 2008 and currently there are 50 functioning across UK, which includes three in London.
Funded mostly by the government, a majority of the SARCs operate out of hospital complexes but in separate sections with very comfortable setting to put victims at ease. SARCs provide a host of services including medical and legal help, police assistance if the victim opts for it, collecting forensic evidence that can stand in the court, meticulous storage of forensic evidence and psychological counselling of victims, among others.
“It is a relatively recent innovation. And it is about trying to provide a safe place to the rape victim. Primarily it is a medical environment where you also make available psychological and counselling support. It has proved very effective in handling sexual assault victims,” said Martin Hewitt, Metropolitan Police Service assistant commissioner who is the national police lead on adult sexual offences.
Sexual assault victims are either brought directly by the police to SARC or can come on their own. “There are laid down protocols for forensic examination and storage of evidence that are uniform across such centres. We are very particular that if a victim does not want report to the police we respect her decision. We do not share any evidence with the police without the victim’s consent,” said Pat Battersby, manager of SARC in Surrey, London.
On the other hand, India’s one-stop centres have got caught in political indecision with just one centre set up so far. The Women and Child Development ministry had originally proposed to set up 660 such centres – one in each district – at a cost of Rs 244 crore. The proposal was shot down by the Prime Minister’s Office which not only cut the budget to Rs 18 crore but approved setting up of just 36 such centres in states and UTs.